UNSEASONAL rain that allowed only 18.3 overs to be bowled on the final day of this fifth Test, wrecked England's chances of winning a second successive Test match at Kensington Oval. It also dashed their hopes of levelling this series at 2-2 and with one Test remaining, they travel to Antigua knowing that a series win is beyond them.
For the England team and their captain, the inclement weather was a cruel blow and it ruined what should have been a thrilling climax, not only for the match, but for the series as well. The prospect of winning in the West Indies was the sole reason that persuaded Atherton to stay on as captain. As that cannot happen now, and with an ill-judged V-sign and some sketchy form niggling away at him, the doubts that he felt at the end of the summer, are sure to resurface.
Atherton is used to disappointment, as most recent England captain's have to be. But when the Gods conspire against you to the extent that the first significant rain since November thwarts your biggest chance of winning a major series, you know you must be fated.
"It's very disappointing," Atherton said. "There was a great day to be played. I didn't think the West Indies could win. I thought either we'd win or it would be a draw. It was just a question if we could have take 10 wickets in a day."
Even so, the England captain was adamant that his side had played the better cricket. "The England team played really good cricket. It was one of the best performances that I've been involved in, even though it seems strange to say that in a drawn match."
It is not the first time England have been denied in the Caribbean by the weather and the home side were saved in 1990, when heavy rain fell in Trinidad on the last day. The West Indies are still a difficult side to beat at home. With the elements on their side they are nigh on impossible. Yet if the delays and interruptions were desperately disappointing for those looking forward to an exciting and full final day's cricket, the arrival of unexpected rain was in keeping with a series, whose sundry twists and turns have made it compulsive viewing.
But if England and their supporters were confident of winning, the draw was probably still favourite even before the bouts of rain, which finally caused the match to be called off at 3.50pm. In all 80 minutes play were possible, with the first major chunk starting at the curious time of 1.01pm. Clayton Lambert was nonplussed. After a shaky opening over against Phil Tufnell, he skied a pull shot off the next over to give Angus Fraser his 26th wicket of the series.
A stocky, powerful man, Lambert appears to start his innings off by taking on the bowlers with some big shots before tightening up and biding his time. It is a tactic many batsmen use, not least his opening partner, Philo Wallace, who once again played some thumping shots in a hard-hit 61 before Andy Caddick trapped him lbw.
It was the first time in the series the West Indies openers had been successful. The breakthroughs brought in Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul but any hopes of parting them quickly - a scuttler that Tufnell got past Lara's outside edge - were dashed when another bout of rain arrived to send the batsmen running for cover and a match that had seen some marvellous performances fizzled out.
Undoubtedly the most significant of those performances was Mark Ramprakash's maiden Test century, a milestone that saw him deservedly win the man of the match award. A previously unfulfilled talent, Ramprakash has looked an entirely different player here to the one that used to bat as if an entire town's lives depended on it.
Paying tribute to him, Atherton said: "He played terrifically well. He was composed and took his opportunities to score. He's a top-notch batsman and with his bowling as well, he is good for the team. He bowled really well on the third day."
However, with England failing to win, the game will probably be remembered not for the renaissance of a gifted player but for the ill-judged gesture by his captain. In a fair world they would cancel each other out. Unfortunately as Atherton and his team found out yesterday, fairness does not always apply.
West Indies won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings 403 (M R Ramprakash 154, G P Thorpe 103, C L Hooper 5-80).
WEST INDIES - First Innings 262 (C B Lambert 55).
ENGLAND - Second Innings 233 for 3 dec (M A Atherton 64).
WEST INDIES - Second innings
C B Lambert c Headley b Fraser 29
(92 min, 60 balls, 5 fours)
P A Wallace lbw b Caddick 61
(154 min, 102 balls, 9 fours, 1 six)
*B C Lara not out 13
(74 min, 59 balls, 1 four)
S Chanderpaul not out 3
(12 min, 4 balls)
Extras (b1,lb5) 6
Total (for 2, 167 min, 37.3 overs) 112
Fall: 1-72 (Lambert), 2-108 (Wallace).
Bowling: Caddick 6-1-19-1 (4-0-18-0 2-1-1-1), Headley 2-0-14-0, Tufnell 16.3-3-37-0 (one spell each), Fraser 11-3-33-1 (4-0-22-0 7-3-11-1), Ramprakash 2-1-3-0 (one spell).
Fifth day: rain delayed start until 1.01pm. Rain stopped play 1.31-1.35pm at 84-1 (Wallace 44, Lara 6) 27.1 overs. 100 in 140 mins, 32 overs. RSP 2.22pm - tea taken. Players took the field at 3.01pm but rain prevented restart. Match abandoned at 3.50pm.
Wallace 50: 139 min, 89 balls, 8 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: C J Mitchley and E Nicholls.
TV Replay Umpire: H Moore.
Match Referee: B N Jarman.
Man of the match: M R Ramprakash.
Adjudicator: Professor R E Edwards.
FIRST TEST (Jamaica): Abandoned.
SECOND TEST (Trinidad): West Indies won by three wickets.
THIRD TEST (Trinidad): England won by three wickets.
FOURTH TEST (Guyana): West Indies won by 242 runs.
FIFTH TEST (Barbados): Match drawn.
SIXTH TEST (Antigua): Starts on Friday.Reuse content